The Northwest Arctic Borough was formed in June 1986 as a home-rule Borough. Geographically, the Borough is roughly the size of the State of Indiana with its southern border just miles above the Arctic Circle. With 36,000 square miles of land and 3,560 miles of shoreline, the NWAB is the second largest Borough in the state. Roughly, 7,700 people in eleven communities call our Borough home. The borough’s annual general fund appropriation is roughly $27 million; of that, $4.1 million supports education and $1.9 million is appropriated for payment of bond debt. Last year, the borough received an additional $8 million in the special revenue fund for capital improvement projects and other grants. 11 Assembly members and over 20 staff members in five departments serve the Borough’s residents.
NWAB’s five main departments, Administration, Planning, Public Service, Public Safety and Economic Development, provide most government services. Specialized support services are provided to each department through the Office of the Mayor, the Clerk’s Office, Human Resource, Grants and Finance. Additionally, through a nonprofit corporation, the Borough subsidizes the Sulianich Art Gallery, which promotes traditional Native arts and crafts as a reliable source of income for our residents.
A Bright Future
The NWAB plans to find ways to permanently diversify its economy by being at the table when it comes to undeveloped mineral resources within the Northwest Arctic region. The Northwest Arctic Borough is uniquely positioned to greatly expand its role in supporting the state’s economy. With declining oil revenue and prices, Alaska needs an economic bridge to diversify its economy. The state also needs to find ways to permanently diversify its economy. The undeveloped mineral resources of the Northwest Arctic region offer a major opportunity to expand economic diversity and provide high-paying jobs. The Northwest Arctic Borough is blessed with substantial known deposits of zinc, lead, silver, gold, coal, jade, copper, and other metals. Several companies are actively exploring a number of new prospects in the area and Teck is expanding their work. The world’s largest lead and zinc mine, Red Dog Mine, lies just 70 miles north of Kotzebue and is one of our main revenue sources. In 2017, Red Dog had a gross profit of $971 million and paid NANA $325 million in royalties. The mine has a NANA shareholder hire of 55 percent. Red Dog serves as a model of how mineral development can occur in rural areas with the support and input of the local communities.
The Borough is also looking beyond mineral development to diversify its economy. The Borough is supporting the growth of small businesses, fishing, renewable energy and the related skilled workforce needed to construct, operate and maintain those system. The Borough is also developing capital infrastructure through the Village Improvement Fund and other grants, which support construction, operations, and maintenance jobs. The Borough is considering the feasibility of bulk fuel purchases, reindeer herding, a meat or seafood processing facility, and the development of a port area to reduce costs. The Borough is partnering with our communities, tribes, regional corporations, and businesses to seek out new economic opportunities. The Borough looks forward to a solid economic future with a diversified base.
To prepare our local work force for coming development, we are in the final phases of building the Star of the Northwest Magnet School (STAR). STAR will be a residential comprehensive secondary and post-secondary school for students region-wide in grades 11 t o 14. Students in the school will graduate from high school and complete up to two years of additional academic and/or vocational technical education leading to an associate of arts degree, and or vocational/technical certifications. The STAR educational curriculum was developed as a collaborative partnership between the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, Alaska Technical Center, Chukchi College, and our industry partners. The school will focus on preparing students for professional careers in our region with four career pathways to choose from; education, healthcare, resource development, and culinary arts. We plan to graduate students who are prepared for the work force by having the required skill levels needed, as well as, understanding the daily demands of a work environment. Our goal is to graduate our next generation of dedicated, driven community leaders and our own workforce.